Guide Yourself Through a Simple Yoga Practice for Better Sleep
Struggle with sleep?
A short evening practice can ease you gently into sleep (and also into the habit of practicing yoga on your own at home. A win-win, for sure!)
I’ve had trouble sleeping all my adult life. Many factors are involved in my sleeplessness, but anxiety and hormone issues seem to be primary barriers to good sleep at this point in my life. After a few really rough nights recently, I decided to go "all in” on the subject of sleep, and once and for all solve this for myself. I’m reading some great books on the subject (Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker PhD, is particularly helpful), as well as working with an excellent sleep app (SleepEasy). I monitor my light, deep and REM sleep every night, and I try my best to practice all the standard elements of good sleep hygiene. I’ve also talked to my doctor about my difficulty sleeping and gotten his take on the issue. I’m happy to report that my sleep is starting to improve.
This process has made me realize that a self-guided evening yoga practice is the single most important activity I can engage in to improve the quality of my sleep. When I do a little yoga in the evening, I sleep better. And importantly, I’m finding that it can serve as a useful way for yogis who struggle with sleep, and even those who don’t, to access a daily self-guided yoga practice. It’s a doorway to beginning to practice yoga on your own more often, even daily, with the objective of helping you sleep more deeply and more soundly, every night.
By necessity, my personal yoga practice has shifted in the last several months from a morning practice to a late afternoon or evening practice to help sustain me through these periodic bouts of sleeplessness. Not only am I too tired for a vigorous “rise and shine” morning practice when I’m not sleeping, but the evening practices are soothing. They take away the tensions that have accumulated in my body during the day, and slow me down enough to allow my body and mind to feel more ready for sleep. If I combine a simple, slow and gentle yoga practice with a hot bath, I feel so much better and I absolutely sleep better. One of the most important principles of developing the habit of a self-guided yoga practice is to make sure it is completely enjoyable—and my evening practice really is. Usually it’s under 20 minutes; it involves a lot of feel-good poses like twists and forward folds; and I allow myself the time and space to stay in a pose for as long as I’d like. Sometimes, I may spend several minutes just taking some deep cleansing breaths—in through my nose and out through my mouth, or I may pick a single restorative pose to practice before a few moments of meditation. At the beginning of my time on my mat, though, I always pause to feel into my body and decide what I need and what will feel good—and I do that. I let go of everything else.
What I really like about this type of evening practice is that because it feels exactly right and it does me so much good, I’m completely willing to do some yoga every night. Even if I’ve already practiced yoga earlier in the day, I still take a few minutes to practice in the evening. My reading on sleep is supporting what I’ve been experiencing. Multiple studies in recent years have shown that gentle stretches, breathing practices and meditation close to bedtime can help you sleep more soundly and for longer amounts of time.
I encourage you to give a simple, self-guided evening yoga practice a try in the coming month. You might find that it helps you find your way to your mat more often, and even better, it might improve the quality of your sleep. I hope so.
To help you get going, I’ve included a few tips for this kind of practice below. In addition, please feel free to email me if you have any questions. I’m happy to support your personal yoga practice journey in any way I can.
In the meantime, I hope you sleep soundly and beautifully.
• Wear your pj’s, or your most comfortable, unconstricting yoga clothes
• Keep the lights low
• Start by just lying or sitting comfortably on your mat. Take some deep breaths and feel deeply into your body. Maybe that’s all you do some nights. That’s okay
• Move into shapes, gentle movement, breathing or meditation practices that feel soothing and exactly right for you
• Let go of all yoga "rules", especially ideas of what a "proper" yoga practice might look like or how long a practice should be
• Keep it simple and enjoyable